Zachary Zimmerman, our 19-year-old protagonist, has just met Elaine Ingersoll, a cute young woman he wants to impress. What better way than to take her swimming with Ruby, a dolphin at Florida Funland, where Zack is fulfilling a college contract to photograph the park’s dolphins for a local author’s book? What could possibly go wrong?
Pandemonium in the Porpoise Pens!
Unless a female has a calf, she usually does not become very aggressive, but she may even kill a recently introduced animal if she has been permitted exclusive control over one area for several years. –David and Melba Caldwell, Bottlenose Dolphin, ibid.
“Oh, this is so exciting,” Elaine cried as we sped south on the Tamiami Trail. “I’ve never swum with a real live dolphin before! What’s it like?”
I groped for a word to describe my experiences with Ruby that wouldn’t totally pulverize my relationship with Elaine. “Wet,” I finally said. “Very, very wet.”
“Really? Wet? Wow!”
As promised, I was taking Elaine to Florida Funland so she could swim with the dolphins. If Beau had at one time been cautious about such experiments, the news that the park was closing must have made him less concerned. You can’t get blood from a turnip, after all. If he thought about liability, he probably figured it would fall as severely on the park’s owners as on him. Or maybe he was trying to be nice to me. A lot of time has passed, and I don’t really know.
“Do they ever talk to you?” Elaine asked.
These innocent-sounding questions got thornier and thornier. I didn’t know how to explain my telepathic experiences with Ruby, didn’t even know if they were real. We hadn’t communicated since the night I fell off the bed.
“The one we’re going swimming with, Ruby, I think she has.”
“Really? Tell me about it!”
My brief description of our “language lesson” impressed her. “Wow, that’s really cool! I mean, I’d heard they could talk and everything, but I never met anyone who’d talked to one of them before! Do you think she’ll talk to me?”
When I picked her up, Elaine had seemed a little aloof, as though she expected our relationship to stay platonic indefinitely but didn’t want to say so. Perhaps things would be different after this swimming expedition. Perhaps she would warm to me, recall some of the exuberance she’d felt the night we met at the juvenile detention center.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I can try to get her to talk…”
“That would be so cool!” she went on. “Is she like Flipper?”
For the first time, I had an inkling of how marine mammalogists must feel, confronted with uninformed laymen demanding dolphin dictionaries.
“Elaine, there’s something you need to understand.”
“Well… the dolphins you see on TV resemble real dolphins about as much as the people you see on TV resemble real people.”
That stopped her cold. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, it’s not real, none of it! It’s all the product of Hollywood writers and producers and directors and editors and cameramen!”
That didn’t help.
“Have you noticed real life doesn’t have a plot, never breaks for commercials and doesn’t solve all its problems at the end of thirty minutes?” I asked, realizing I was talking down to her but not knowing what else to say or how to say it.
“Well yeah, I had, sort of. I always thought it was a bummer, that way.”
“It’s like that with the dolphins. They’re not like big, friendly dogs that happen to live in the ocean, Elaine! They’re not even domesticated animals!”
“No! They’re wild animals that have been captured and trained to tolerate humans! They have strong personalities, and, and they, uh, they get along with some people better than others. I went in with a couple the other day, and they sort of roughed me up.”
Now Elaine seemed aghast. Great going, Zack! “They wouldn’t hurt a person they didn’t like, would they?”
Satan flashed to mind; I could imagine him cheerfully playing with a severed limb. “Those were a couple of rowdy ones,” I said. “Ruby, the one we’re going in with, is the gentlest one in the whole place.”
“Well that’s good,” she said, relieved. “You had me thinking they were sharks or something! I don’t know how I’d explain it to my dad if a dolphin bit me. He’d probably say I must’ve bitten it first.” Continue reading Pandemonium in the Porpoise Pens!